The Redskins, and Other Disasters

October 1, 2001

Trevor Matich


What do the following overheard conversations have in common?

On the bow of the Titanic:  “Hey, what’s that big white thing?”

At Ford’s Theatre:  “Mr. Lincoln, you’ll love the second act of the play!”

Michael Jackson, to his plastic surgeon in 1984:  “Doc, make me look like LaToya!”

In Washington, DC:  “If we just work the Redskins harder, they’ll have an awesome year!”

You guessed it.  They were all said prior to illustrious disasters.

As we know, some disasters are more disastrous than others.  But in the world of professional football, the Redskins’ meltdown qualifies as one of the wonders of the 2001 season.

Over the first three games of this season, there has been only one team in the NFL that hasn’t even put up a fight.  Guess who it is. 

San Diego?  No, last years’ 1-15 Chargers are 3-0 right now. 

The woeful Bengals, owners of the worst record of the last ten years?  No, Cincinnati is 2-1, and have already beaten the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. 

How about Cleveland, the newest expansion team?  No, the Browns are also 2-1, and putting up quite a nice fight, thank you.

So you guessed it again.  The Redskins have been outscored 112-16 so far.  The way they’re playing, they would have trouble winning the SEC.

The most flummoxing thing about the Redskins is the quality of their personnel.  On paper, they look competitive; they have Pro Bowl caliber players at tight end, running back, corner, and defensive line.  Their offensive line is anchored by two of the finest young tackles in the league.  They have tall receivers who run well and present matchup problems for shorter defensive backs.

As for effort, first year coach Marty Schottenheimer has been working them like those poor folks raising the obelisk in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”

So why do they suck?  (Um, sorry.)  So why aren’t they getting results?

There are a number of reasons, but the most pressing is that the players haven’t bought into Schottenheimer’s system; they don’t believe that he is putting them in a position to win on the field, and they feel like he has saddled them with rigid rules off the field that make it harder to concentrate on the task at hand.

Ultimately, belief is the foundation of a team.   And belief can come and go through the smallest things.

For example, there is something to be said for working young players into the dust, but there is absolutely no reason to pound older veterans the same way.  They already know what to do and how to do it; they need to hone their skills, not incessantly hammer their bodies.

And since older bodies don’t recover as quickly, any gain that extra hitting in practice provides is usually more than counterbalanced by diminished physical capacity come Sunday.

But we’re only three games into the season, right?  Well, look a little deeper.

In training camp, future Hall of Famer and 16-year veteran Bruce Smith injured his shoulder—during a live hitting drill when he was blasted by Mookie Moore, a second year offensive lineman who didn’t even make the team.  A drill like that is important for a young player like Mookie.  But do you think Bruce Smith needed that live drill to be ready to play in September?

I didn’t think you did.  The key is, neither did the rest of the Redskins players.  The coach’s credibility faded with each step that the injured Smith took as his teammates watched him walk off the field with a look of pain and disgust on his face.

Then there is Darrell Green, another lock for the Hall of Fame at cornerback.  Cornerback.  Cover corner, to be specific.  That means that Darrell, all 41 years old of him, contributes by running with an opposing wide receiver.  

Darrell has shown during his record setting career that he is willing and able to throw his body into the fray when necessary.  But his value to the team is in his finesse, not his hitting.  Oh, and did I mention that he is 41?

So why then, during that same training camp, did Darrell Green have to do the Oklahoma drill?  You know--the drill where there are two cones five yards apart, a runner, a blocker, and a defender.  It is the most brutally physical drill in football.

Teammates see the look on those veterans’ faces.  Keep in mind that young players look to the veterans for guidance. Those vets--not the coaches--were the young players’ heroes when they were wide-eyed NFL wannabes in high school and college.  When those faces silently say that the coach is nuts, it has an impact. 

(It doesn't matter whether the coach really is nuts; it only matters whether players think so.)

Combine that with off-the-field rules that the players resent, like assigned seating on the team plane.  Or being forced to have a roommate at the team hotel, even if that roommate snores like Rosie O’Donnell snoozing after devouring a large pepperoni pizza.  (Okay, sorry; that was unnecessary.)  Or having alarms on the dorm rooms after curfew at training camp.  These used to be grown men, weren’t they?

The problem is this:  If a new coach treats respected, Pro Bowl caliber veterans like this, and the team wins, it’s all chalked up to tough love.  But when the result is starting 0-3 while being outscored 112-16, then it adds up to players wondering if the coach has any idea what he’s doing.  

And when they wonder that, there is no team.

Players don’t mind being pushed and disciplined.  But if they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to results, they just feel punished.  Their focus goes over from winning to surviving.  

And when it does that, there is no team.

They see that last year’s defense, ranked 4th in the NFL, is now dead last at 31st.  They see that last year’s offense, ranked in the middle of the pack, is now…you guessed it, dead last at 31st.  

When players wonder if the coaches are taking their offense and defense in the right direction, there is no team.

In an interview by CBS' Armen Keteyian for last Sunday's NFL Today, Bruce Smith was asked if the coaching staff was losing the players' confidence.  Smith said that he wouldn't answer the question.

That’s the problem with the Redskins.  They have a lot of good players. 

But they have no team.   




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